Nutritionist Hebe has shared her thoughts on how we can embark on this new year with positivity, good health and balanced eating.
‘January is often a month of reflection and planning. This year, I’m doubtful it’ll feel the same than any year before with so much having changed in our lives. January is equally a time where we look to make changes for the upcoming years ahead around food, exercise and mental health’
Hebe Richardson Bsc(Hons) Anutr
Here are Hebe’s top ideas to consider for January 2021:
January is peak fad diet season. However, the diet that seems to reign supreme over most January headlines is the ‘detox’. This diet is often short term, and claims to provide rapid weight loss, improved digestion, energy levels as well as boosting your immunity (2). They commonly include drinking only juice, fasting or cutting out whole food groups.
Not only are these diets extreme, but they are based on pseudoscience. For example, detox diets ignore the fact that our bodies are constantly removing toxins from our system. This is done in multiple organs such as the skin, gut, liver and kidneys.
Equally, despite these kinds of diets being sold on the promise of ‘health’ evidence suggests that they are not actually that healthy. For example, what most diets have in common is the promise of weight loss, however a great proportion of people struggle to maintain weight loss when they diet (3). This often leads to something known as ‘weight cycling’ or is otherwise known as yo-yo dieting which has links to negative health outcomes (4). Additionally, diets often suggest removing whole food groups which is not necessary, as we know that all food groups provide us with important nutrients we need for our health.
January 2020 seems like a long time ago now, but it was a great month for new vegans with 402,206 people signing up to Veganuary (1). A campaign which aims to encourage and support people to go vegan for the month of January. Changing our diets can feel daunting, so if you’re thinking of giving veganism a go, here are some things to bear in mind.
Going vegan can be challenging. It can be really tempting to jump in full steam ahead. It’s worthwhile taking your time with this to plan and consider the foods you like and enjoy that you can include on a vegan diet.
Don’t worry if you can’t keep it up. It can be tempting to create hard and fast rules when it comes to food, but realistically if you are drastically changing your diet it can be difficult. Not everyone thrives on a vegan diet, it is often difficult to get access to some foods, you may not have the time and you may not enjoy the foods you’re now eating.
Consider your nutrition. A vegan diet eliminates all animal products, including honey, dairy, eggs, fish and meat - meaning that certain nutrients are more difficult to obtain and we need to pay a bit more attention to. These include; Omega -3, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and protein.
This last year has had an incredibly impactful effect on our mental health. Nutrition not only affects our mental health, but mental health can also influence our food choices. In times of stress and uncertainty our focus often is not on food, but it’s important to remember that food is key part of taking care of ourselves.
Eating enough and eating regularly.
It can seem quite facetious to say so, but we need food to live. We live in a society which so often is promotes restraint and restriction over our eating habits, but this often misses out on some the importance of eating to our overall health and wellbeing. For example, not eating enough can make us not feel great, bring our energy levels down and make it difficult to concentrate. Equally, restrained eating can have detrimental effects on us creating psychological, physiological and social stress (5).
This year has undoubtedly been stressful, and no doubt this is not something which will disappear in the short term. Experiences of stress can affect our eating patterns through hormones that we produce in response to it. This is not the same across the board, and the response is dependent on the type of stress we experience as well as the severity and length that we are exposed to it (6).
In times of acute stress for example, we experience a fight or flight response where energy is diverted to brain and muscle tissue, and diverted away from systems such as reproduction and digestion. Therefore, most commonly in times of acute stress our appetite and food intake is suppressed (6).
Stress also influences our food choice and preferences. We all can react differently to it, as for some people it leads to an increase in caloric intake, while others a decrease. For over 70% of us there has been shown to be an increase in snack-like foods, while a decrease in whole meals (7). Equally, stress has been shown to alter our food preferences, with more people leaning towards more palatable foods such as those high in sugar and fat (8). There is a lot of variability in our responses to stress, but something that is consistent is that individuals that are restricting (i.e dieting) are more likely to report increasing food consumption while stressed (8).
Reduce the overwhelm
Spending more time at home this year can feel overwhelming when it comes to making healthy choices. We’ve never spent as much time in our homes, therefore, never as much time in our kitchens. Preparing, cooking and planning 3 meals a day may not have been something that you were used to before as we’ve had less opportunity to eat out with friends or grab food on the go. This increased attention on food can take up a lot of time and energy. Add to this consideration such as trying to be creative, think outside the box and considering nutrition it can become overwhelming. Taking a few steps back we can try and make food less complicated and less perfect. For example;
- Cover your bases, start by considering the food groups such as carbohydrates, proteins, fruit and vegetables, fats and oils and hydration.
- Batch cooking is not a revolutionary idea by any means, but can be very useful tool to take stress out of food preparation.
- Making things easy. Consider things that could make prepping meals easier i.e meal kits, recipe or veg boxes. Frozen, tinned or dried fruit and veg all still count towards your 5-a day and may be easier to get hold of and store.
- What is satisfying? Have you ever thought about the foods that you find more satisfying, keep you fuller for longer or how they affect your energy?
- Keep things interesting. Constant food preparation can get dull and uninteresting pretty quickly. Keeping things interesting is a bit of a challenge, but taking some time out to research new recipes, get hold of new cook books or ask friends and family about their favourite dishes could make things a bit more exciting.
- Make use of your leftovers. Cooking a double portion of something and using it as a leftover is a great option when we’ve not got much time.
- Making a plan. Looking ahead can help to take some of the stress out of meal preparation. Looking at what days you’ll be able to do your food shopping, food preparation or what days are particularly busy ones so you can work around them.
- Stress management. Taking a moment away from food for a moment to consider the ways you look after yourself. Stress can impact our bodies in many ways so it’s worthwhile having a think about the things that are achievable and accessible to you to manage your stress.
1. Veganuary 2020: Official Survey Results. Veganuary. 2020. Available from: https://veganuary.com/veganuary-2020-official-survey-results/
2. Detox Diets. Bda.uk.com. 2020. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/detox-diets.html
3. Wing R, Phelan S. Long-term weight loss maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005;82(1):222S-225S.
4. Brownell K, Rodin J. Medical, metabolic, and psychological effects of weight cycling. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1994;154(12):1325-1330.
5. Tylka T, Annunziato R, Burgard D, Daníelsdóttir S, Shuman E, Davis C et al. The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2014;2014:1-18.
6. Adam T, Epel E. Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & Behavior. 2007;91(4):449-458.
7. Oliver G, Wardel J. Perceived Effects of Stress on Food Choice. Physiology & Behavior. 1999;66(3):511-515.
8. Zellner D, Loaiza S, Gonzalez Z, Pita J, Morales J, Pecora D et al. Food selection changes under stress. Physiology & Behavior. 2006;87(4):789-793.
Hebe is a registered associate nutritionist (ANutr) with the Association for Nutrition, having graduated from Kings College London in 2018 with a BSc(Hons) in Nutrition. She has extensive experience in the food industry working on projects such as building nutrition strategies, recipe development, nutritional analysis and product reformulation, as well as a genuine passion for food, leading her to win an Acorn Award in 2020.